A countdown beings in the corner of the screen as a mummy walks through a fancy dinner car aboard the Orient Express. At least that’s what one unfortunate elderly woman hallucinates right before dying. And then the Doctor and Clara arrive dressed in 1920’s garb. At first it looks like last week’s falling out between the TARDIS Duo has been mended, and things are back to normal. But all is not well. The strain on their relationship is obvious. Perhaps it’s too great. Has their last adventure together begun?
As the Orient Express hurtles through space, because as the Doctor says, “many trains have been called the Orient Express”, the Doctor and Clara continue they’re agreed upon final adventure. But soon, as the sweetest of Doctor Who moments tend to, things go a bit off as the Doctor and Clara get sucked into investigating the old lady who died.
At one point Clara talks with Danny, who is back on earth communicating via cell, about her strained relationship with the Doctor. I can’t help but wonder what the plan is for Danny. He’d make a great companion, but he always stays at home while Clara is off traveling with the Doctor. Why doesn’t he go with them? Does he not want to go? Does she not want him to come along? I’d like to see Danny as a full time companion, but his absence on adventures is making me more frustrated than curious as to why he’s not traveling on the TARDIS.
But I digress. The mystery, and investigation, progresses as Clara continues to show her strength and independence while following her own path aboard the train. The Doctor begins his inquiry by talking with other passengers. In doing so he uncovers the rumor of a curse that might be the cause of the murder aboard the train. The whole look and feel of the episode really brings to life the 1920’s murder mystery that Mummy on the Orient Express is all about. I believe this is actually the best-looking episode so far, not to mention the one which stands strongest on its own. It’s really just a fun Doctor Who story!
The Doctor investigates the myth with his usual skepticism towards curses, but all evidence supports the myth. That, of course, doesn’t sit well with the last of the Time Lords! Clara, meanwhile, finds the mummy’s sarcophagus as it is opening, and so begins the countdown clock on the screen. Danger is afoot as the mummy kills another passenger. Now everyone on board lets the Doctor take over and run the investigation.
Once again we see the Doctor faced with someone who’s death is imminent and unavoidable. But rather than comfort them as other Doctors have in the past, he interrogates them, trying to extract every bit of information he can before they die. The Twelfth Doctor is no less compassionate towards others, but he does not waste time comforting the imminently doomed when the time can be best spent on something else.
And the deaths keep coming. While the Doctor tries to make sense of the situation the mummy keeps taking lives. With the latest death the Doctor finally zeroes in on exactly what the mummy is and why it keeps preying on people. As Clara finds her way back to the Doctor she again sees the Doctor’s darker side as it becomes revealed that the Doctor knew full well what they were going to find when they landed aboard the Orient Express. She takes umbrage with his flagrant disregard for both honesty, and her safety. She has no choice but to stand idly by while the Doctor confronts the mummy, and the countdown begins again. Perhaps a metaphor this whole time…
As usual the Doctor saves the day. It may have had another slightly “too easy” ending, but so do most Doctor Who stories. I could go on about how we’re seeing a high number of these impossible scenarios solved with simple cutaways to dismissive explanations, but the Moffat era is full of them, and hardly something new. It may be somewhat tiring, but at least at times a story rises above this shortcoming to fulfill despite an empty ending, and in Mummy we got exactly that.
Mummy on the Orient Express was for me the best episode of the season so far. The story was tight, the feel was great, the writing was flawless, and the Doctor felt like the Doctor. This episode gave us the most refined Twelfth Doctor yet, and I think it’s a personality Peter Capaldi and the writers should settle on as his usual persona. Everything about the episode worked, and it was the most well put together adventure this season. While entertaining and mysterious, it also showed character development that leaves us wondering how solid the Doctor and Clara’s relationship is.
While in the end Clara couldn’t actually give up the adventures, or more likely, the Doctor, it does seem inevitable that her time on the TARDIS is winding down. Can the Doctor and the Impossible Girl stay apart by sheer will alone? Or is something more permanent in store? Whatever happens, this season has cemented Clara and the Doctor’s relationship, made more real and functional because of the tension and uncertainty that has been added. It would be a perfect time for her to leave. Not because I want her to go, but because the impact would be tangible.
So far Season Eight has seen the Doctor become less childish, more ferocious, and increasingly alien. Episodes are taking on a more traditional, Classic feel. The sonic screwdriver is coming in handy less and less. Finally. The Doctor’s relationship with his companion has never been less romantic since the revival, and the show is more compelling for every one of these reasons. The winds of change are blowing, and it’s becoming an excellent ride!
image source: [ign]